Evidence ft. Slug – “Powder Cocaine” (@Rhymesayers / 2018)
Taken from the West Coast wordsmith’s recently-released album “Weather Or Not”.
Evidence ft. Slug – “Powder Cocaine” (@Rhymesayers / 2018)
Taken from the West Coast wordsmith’s recently-released album “Weather Or Not”.
So here we are again. Another year has come to an end. Time to look back over the last twelve months and give my traditional round-up of the beats and rhymes I had in heavy rotation throughout 2017.
It’s never easy putting ‘best-of’ lists together. Regardless of how many releases are included, it’s impossible to compile something like this without always feeling like you’re having to leave something out. But this year has been particularly difficult, given the sheer amount of quality Hip-Hop that has been released over the past 365 days.
In addition to the albums and EPs that actually made it into this five-part overview, there was approximately a further fifty included on my initial short-list, but you have to draw the line somewhere.
So, whilst there will no doubt be projects not featured here that some will feel should have been mentioned, those that made the cut have been selected based purely on being one of the releases I listened to (and enjoyed) the most throughout 2017.
That being said, huge props to every emcee, producer and deejay out there making music that comes from a genuine place of creativity and artistic integrity – your efforts are appreciated by Hip-Hop heads across Planet Rock.
But now, like we always do about this time….
Melanin 9 – “Old Pictures” (Red Snow Records) – A decade after the release of his debut project “High Fidelity”, Triple Darkness member Melanin 9 delivered arguably his best body of solo work to date. A personal, introspective walk through the experiences, struggles and memories of the London-based lyricist, “Old Pictures” found M9 matching his impressive verses with fittingly mellow, laidback soundscapes from producers such as Ohbliv, Wun Two and Anatomy. Timeless beats and rhymes.
O.C. – “Same Moon Same Sun: 1st Phase” (D.I.T.C. Studios) – One of the greatest emcees of all-time, Diggin’ In The Crates legend Omar Credle personified the term ‘grown man business’ on his seventh solo album, offering an assured blend of social commentary, life observations and lyrical bravado, proving that truly talented artists never lose their importance or relevance in the rap game.
Trauma 74 – “The God Given Image” (Evil Twin Records) – The result of a life-long passion for Hip-Hop that began in the early-80s, this debut album from UK emcee Trauma 74 was clearly a labour of love. Grounded in true-school traditions and creative integrity, “The God Given Image” was packed with accomplished wordplay and soulful boom-bap beats, resulting in a project that any fellow Hip-Hop junkie could appreciate and relate to.
Strizzy Strauss – “The Art Of Summarising Life” (IAmStrizzyStrauss.BandCamp.Com) – The upcoming Leicester-based lyricist definitely made his mark on the homegrown scene in 2017 with this impressive EP, full of personal, heartfelt verses delivered with street-savvy sensitivity and a sharp social awareness. Honest, life-affirming and inspirational, “The Art Of…” showcased the voice of an artist clearly keen to inject his music with substance as well as style.
Milano Constantine – “The Way We Were” (Different Worlds Music Group) – A tribute to the New York of yesteryear, Diggin’ In The Crates affiliate Milano utilised the top-notch, drum-heavy production of DJ Skizz and Marco Polo to reminisce about old-school fashion trends, graffiti-covered subway trains and wild nights at the Latin Quarter throughout this release, drawing on both the youthful energy of 80s Hip-Hop and the volatile Rotten Apple environment of the time for inspiration.
Roc Marciano – “Rosebudd’s Revenge” (Marci Enterprises) – The Strong Island representative gave the game yet another back-handed pimp slap in the form of his fourth solo album, a cool-but-deadly collection of cold-blooded, elegantly-delivered rawness, evoking images of 70s Blaxploitation flicks and golden-era NY Hip-Hop in equal measures. Fresh, fly and bold.
Brother Ali – “All The Beauty In This Life” (Rhymesayers Entertainment) – Long-established as one of Hip-Hop’s most inspiring and warm-hearted artists, Minneapolis’s Brother Ali dropped a truly fitting Ant-produced soundtrack to today’s troubled times, drawing inspiration from both personal situations and global issues as he encouraged listeners to find meaning and purpose in their lives, despite the struggles and hardships we each face on a daily basis.
Funky DL – “Marauding At Midnight” (Washington Classics) – Multi-talented UK artist Funky DL paid tribute to the musical genius of A Tribe Called Quest with this inspired instrumental remake of the Queens crew’s classic 1993 album “Midnight Marauders”. Achieving the difficult balance of staying faithful to ATCQ’s jazzy, low-end aesthetic whilst allowing his own musical personality to shine through, DL proved himself to be both a student and master of the production game throughout this ambitious release.
Saipher Soze – “Godbody” (SaipherSoze.BandCamp.Com) – Rough, rugged and raw flavour from the Toronto emcee packed with razor-sharp rhymes and quality beats, this Finn-produced album found Soze cementing his position as one of the most skilled microphone fiends to have emerged from the Canadian underground in recent times.
Dillon & Diamond – “Black Tie Affair” (FullPlate.BandCamp.Com) – Successful in their promise of crafting “sophisticated rap music”, Atlanta-based emcee Dillon and Diggin’ In The Crates giant Diamond D mixed the rough with the smooth on this five-track EP, resulting in a polished listening experience which still bore the musical marks of dusty fingerprints.
Sons Phonetic – “Deloreans” (SonsPhonetic.BandCamp.Com) – Atmospheric, captivating beats and rhymes from Ireland’s mighty Sons Phonetic crew, with “Deloreans” proving once again why the multi-faceted collective can lay claim to being one of the most consistent groups in the game.
The Almighty $amhill – “The Epilogue” (LowTechRecords.BandCamp.Com) – Bronx native $amhill delivered more of his unapologetically raw street-smart lyricism on this quality EP release, a potent dose of gritty NY flavour direct from the birthplace of Hip-Hop produced largely by the talented Preservation.
Es – “We Are Only Getting Older” (EsMuzik.BandCamp.Com) – Canadian lyricist Es followed up his brilliant 2014 album “Aspire To Inspire” with the equally impressive “We Are Only Getting Older”, a concept-based project dealing with Hip-Hop’s generation gap, featuring production from IV The Polymath, Rel McCoy, Kelpi Nine and more.
Eloh Kush & BudaMunk – “Fly Emperor” (AnglezInc.BandCamp.Com) – Backed by the melodic, drum-heavy production of Japan’s BudaMunk, New Jersey’s Eloh Kush mixed streetwise attitude with vividly creative wordplay on this impressive long-player.
The Cornel West Theory – “The T.A.B.L.E. Too” (TheCornelWestTheory.BandCamp.Com) – Washington D.C.’s Cornel West Theory continued to go against the grain on their fifth album release, a collection of radio-unfriendly soundscapes and challenging, thought-provoking lyrics.
Creestal – “Differences” (MunchieRecords.BandCamp.Com) – Talented French producer Creestal (of CM Jones fame) dug deep in his crates for this sample-driven collection of dusty flavours featuring Roc Marciano, Conway, Torae and more. Blending together raw drums, obscure loops and random film dialogue, “Differences” was a masterclass in sonic creativity.
J Scienide – “The Actual Heat” (JSciende-OfficialCrateMusic.BandCamp.Com) – Washington D.C.-based artist J Scienide delivered his highly-anticipated album “The Actual Heat”, an accomplished collection of sample-based beats and intelligent, witty wordplay, with the likes of Grap Luva, Kev Brown and Nolan The Ninja making notable appearances on what was easily one of 2017’s best releases.
Da Buze Bruvaz – “Adebisi Hat” (Grilchy Party) – Run and DMC. Rae and Ghost. Billy Danze and Lil Fame. The key to a great rap duo is chemistry. Philly’s Him-Lo and Clever One can add themselves to that list. The Lo-Life-affiliated pair have dropped plenty of worthwhile material over the years, but this full-length effort upped the hardcore ante, with the true-school twosome verbally bullying top-drawer production with their trademark brand of boisterous, politically-incorrect punchlines.
MC Eiht – “Which Way Iz West” (Blue Stamp Music / Year Round Records) – Approximately two years after West Coast legend MC Eiht announced his next album would be backed by DJ Premier, the project finally saw a release. Thankfully, “Which Way…” lived up to expectations. With Eiht solidifying his OG status throughout, this long-player deservedly found itself being heralded as a standout dose of Cali attitude. Compton’s still in the house. Geeah!
Children Of Zeus – “The Story So Far…” (First Word Records) – Manchester’s Konny Kon and Tyler Daley have been blessing a cult following with sonic gems for some time now, but 2017 was the year the talented pair’s unique brand of soulful, Hip-Hop-influenced music started to reach a wider audience and receive the acclaim it deserved. This compilation pulled together both previously-released tracks and new material from the UK duo, paving the way for the official Zeus debut album due for release in 2018.
Check Part Two here.
Brother Ali – “Never Learn” (@BrotherAli / 2017)
Honest, heartfelt lyricism from Ali’s forthcoming album “All The Beauty In This Whole Life”.
Brother Ali – “Pen To Paper” (@BrotherAli / 2017)
Ant-produced track from the gifted Minneapolis emcee’s forthcoming album “All The Beauty In This Whole Life”.
Blueprint – “Respect The Architect” (Weightless Recordings) – Responsible for releasing a steady stream of quality music over the last decade-plus, Ohio producer-on-the-mic Blueprint channeled his life experiences, both good and bad, into this emotionally-charged body of work. Capturing a variety of moods and thoughts, Blueprint moved seamlessly throughout this album, from moments of powerful reflection to striking artistic defiance. Genuine soul music.
Skanks – “The Shinigami Flowfessional” (Shinigamie Records) – Spreading love may well be the Brooklyn way as Biggie once said, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be delivered with a heavy dose of rawness, as evidenced by NY emcee Skanks’ impressive solo project. Backed by the rugged, thunder-clap production of France’s Kyo Itachi, the Bankai Fam member repped for both the streets of his Crooklyn stomping grounds and the culture of Hip-Hop with equal parts passion, aggression and determination. How about some hardcore?
Wu-Tang Clan – “A Better Tomorrow” (Warner Brothers) – At one point it looked like “A Better Tomorrow” wasn’t likely to see the light of day, with there being discord within the Clan regarding RZA’s creative direction for the project. Yet, the brothers from the slums of Shaolin managed to find some musical middle ground. For the most part, this 20th anniversary album effectively balanced the Abbot’s grand ideas with traditional Wu-Tang slang, showcasing the still-impressive verbal skills of each member and also including some poignant rhymes for our troubled times.
Dilated Peoples – “Directors Of Photography” (Rhymesayers Entertainment) – Viewing the world through a camera lens on their first group project since 2006, West Coast trio Evidence, Rakaa Iriscience and DJ Babu added more worthy sonic snapshots to their extensive musical photo album, which now spans almost two decades. With “Directors Of Photography”, the crew showcased their creative growth whilst remaining faithful to their underground Hip-Hop roots set in the 90s indie scene.
Giallo Point & SmooVth – “Portrait Of A Pimp” (Crate Divizion) – SmooVth by name, smooth by nature, the Strong Island lyricist plundered UK producer Giallo Point’s beat stash for this sublime, low-key lesson in minimalist magic. Weaving subtle-yet-vivid rhymes around exquisite beats that ranged from cool-breeze loops to 70s soundtrack-style drama, SmooVth used his calm-but-deadly delivery to draw the listener into a cinematic world of fine women, fast living and slick street tales.
Eff Yoo & Godilla – “They Came On Horseback” (Eff Yoo & Godilla) – Riding into town from the high plains of NYC and Pennsylvania respectively, mic-slingers Eff Yoo and Godilla stood as outlaws against Hip-Hop’s diluted mainstream, crafting an album for those who still appreciate genuine lyricism. Joined on their musical travels by the likes of Spit Gemz, Shabaam Sahdeeq and UG of the Cella Dwellas, this rough-and-ready posse made their way through the badlands of rap, inviting like-minded heads to ride alongside them. Saddle up!
Lord Finesse – “The SP1200 Project” (Slice-Of-Spice) – The Diggin’ In The Crates legend unleashed a mammoth selection of masterful, sample-based beats on this brilliant instrumental project. Capturing the timeless essence of classic golden-era Hip-Hop, Finesse demonstrated why his reputation as one of the game’s illest producers remains firmly intact to this day.
Essa – “The Misadventures Of A Middle Man” (First Word Records) – London’s Essa (formerly known as Yungun) is the perfect example of an emcee who has really kept it real over the years in the truest sense of the term. Having displayed consistent artistic growth, integrity and honesty since debuting in the early-2000s, this long-awaited album found Essa delivering expertly-written verses over a varied selection of musical flavours, from futuristic soul and afro-beat to traditional, drum-heavy Hip-Hop. Capturing Essa’s thoughts on topics such as his mixed-race heritage, religion and family, “The Misadventures…” offered insight into the world of an artist with a sharp mind and an equally sharp lyrical ability.
Diamond District – “March On Washington” (Mello Music Group) – Successfully achieving the delicate balancing act of pushing creative boundaries whilst still satisfying original fans, DMV trio Oddisee, yU and Uptown XO’s follow-up to their 2009 album “In The Ruff” demonstrated both musical growth and a deeper lyrical approach. Spring-boarding off of Oddisee’s ever-expanding production palette, the group crafted a now-school album with influences that could be traced back to 70s soul and 90s Hip-Hop.
K-9 – “The Re-Education Of King 9” (Rotton Products) – This self-produced album from London emcee K-9 is what KRS-One would no doubt describe as ‘edutainment’. Proudly displaying a strong reggae influence rooted in old-school sound-system culture, K-9 also drew heavily on his West Indian ancestry as he linked the social plight faced by many inner-city British Black Black youth to the experiences of older generations arriving in England in the late-40s and after. Tackling racism, injustice and colonialism, “The Re-Education Of…” is as much a history lesson as it is a snapshot of present-day Britain. Intelligent, entertaining and engaging. Overstand!
Golden Brown Sound – “The Great Man Theory” (GBS) – Claiming to be bringing ’88 back, “not the place and time, but the state of mind”, Boston duo NoDoz and DJ On & On succeeded in crafting an album that, like so many golden-era favourites of yesteryear, was recorded with the intention of being valued and embraced by the Hip-Hop Nation first and foremost. NoDoz’s passionate social commentary and life observations sat tightly over On & On’s pounding production, resulting in “The Great Man Theory” being a combustible mix of mental stimulation, energy and true skills.
Various Artists – “Jamla Is The Squad” (Jamla Records) – With Statik Selektah on the ones-and-twos, this mixtape-style compilation of Jamla artists and allies showcased just how much talent is affiliated with the 9th Wonder-helmed label. Featuring the likes of Big Remo, Rapsody and GQ delivering expert wordplay over the soul-drenched boom-bap of Khrysis, Eric G and 9th himself, this album proved, as Busta Rhymes mighty say, that Jamla really is the squid-aud!
Keith Science – “Hypothalamus” (Central Wax Records) – Following up 2012’s impressive “Vessels Of Thought Volume II”, New Jersey producer Keith Science unlocked his lab to present this collection of atmospheric instrumentals. Ranging from mesmerising, late-night-flavoured beats, to sparse, neck-snapping rhyme-ready tracks, with “Hypothalamus” Science proved himself to be a true master of the sampling arts.
Ray Vendetta & Greater Good – “Effortless” (GreaterGoodBeats.BandCamp.Com) – A member of talented UK collective Triple Darkness, London emcee Ray Vendetta stepped outside of crew ranks to drop this dope solo project. Combining life memories, positive sentiments and raw imagery with the hazy, head-nodding production of Greater Good, “Effortless” was a hypnotic, and at times haunting listening experience, which stayed with you long after the last track faded away.
Sonnyjim & Leaf Dog – “How To Tame Lions” (EatGood Records) – Collaborations between particular emcees and producers may look good on paper, but don’t always translate well once both parties are in the studio. When done right, however, the final results can be a match made in Hip-Hop heaven, like this EP from Birmingham emcee Sonnyjim and High Focus Records production wizard Leaf Dog. Meshing colourful wordplay and rewind-worthy punchlines with sublime beats, the pair displayed a natural chemistry throughout “How To Tame Lions” which, hopefully, will be heard again on future releases.
Von Poe VII – “Only Godz Relate” (Organized Threat) – An ambitious project of epic proportions, this thirty-track double-album from West Coast emcee Von Poe found the skilled artist unleashing intricate verses laced with socially conscious sentiments, street knowledge and a strong sense of cultural pride. Linking with equally talented wordsmiths such as Planet Asia and the UK’s Melanin 9, Poe also demonstrated a sharp ear for quality production, with “Only Godz Relate” possessing a strong sonic identity thanks to the ominous, piano-laced soundscapes of Saheed Sha, Endure and Faces. Peace to the Godz!
Creestal – “Difference” (Munchie Records) – French producer Creestal’s instrumental project “Difference” (a dedication to the “dark and rugged” aspects of America) offered listeners a captivating sonic journey which conjured up images of New York City project buildings, late-night street-corner drama and lost record collections rediscovered in dusty basements. Meticulously pieced together from a variety of random sample material, “Difference” was as unpredictable as it was enjoyable.
Timeless Truth – “Dominican Diner” (TimelessTruthNYC.Com) – Building on the strong foundations of their previous releases and continuing to carry on tradition, blood-related “Queens giants” Oprime39 and Superbad Solace repped proudly for their NY borough throughout “Dominican Diner”, accompanied by atmospheric production from the talented Fafu. Staying true to the golden-era codes and ethics of Rotten Apple Hip-Hop, Oprime and Solace respectfully paid homage to the NYC sound that raised them whilst making their own worthwhile contribution to the city’s rap legacy.
Supastition – “Honest Living” (Reform School Music) – Written during a period in when North Carolina-raised, ATL-based lyricist Supastition found himself unemployed and looking for a j-o-b in an unsteady US economy, “Honest Living” was working-class Hip-Hop capable of resonating with anyone struggling to make-ends-meet and provide for their family. Backed by the melodic boom-bap of German producer Croup, Supa provided the perfect soundtrack for everyone out there counting down to payday every month.
Jazz Spastiks – “The Product” (JazzPlastik) – UK production duo Coconut Delight and Mr. Manayana delivered a flawless album with “The Product”, a thoroughly-satisfying, head-nodding extravaganza which found the pair supplying the likes of Yesh, Apani B. Fly and Count Bass D with their classic brand of jazz-infused beats. Smooth horn samples, huge basslines and dreamy keys were the order of the day here, resulting in a warm, timeless listening experience.
Part Four coming soon.
Dilated Peoples ft. Aloe Blacc – “Show Me The Way” (@Rhymesayers / 2014)
New visuals from the Left Coast trio’s recent album “Directors Of Photography”.