Royce 5’9 – “I Don’t Age” (@RoyceDa59 / 2021)
Taken from the Detroit emcee’s Grammy-nominated 2020 album “The Allegory”.
Royce 5’9 – “I Don’t Age” (@RoyceDa59 / 2021)
Taken from the Detroit emcee’s Grammy-nominated 2020 album “The Allegory”.
Vic Spencer – “Psychological Cheat Sheet” (GourmetDeluxxx.BandCamp.Com) – Joined by the brilliant August Fanon on production duties, Chicago’s inimitable Vic Spencer dropped verses packed with punchlines, dry humour and charisma throughout this album. As ever, Vic came across as the type of artist who would kick it with you for a few minutes if you bumped into him on the street, but he’d also be likely to laugh in the face of your favourite rapper if they happened to walk past.
Royce 5’9 – “The Allegory” (Royce59.Com) – This self-produced effort found Royce using the same microscopic attention to detail he’d applied to his personal life throughout 2018’s brilliant “Book Of Ryan”, but this time he turned to look outwards at wider society. Covering issues such as racism, violence and economic inequality, the Detroit artist used laser-like lyrical precision to cut through the noise and deliver some striking commentary on life in Amerikkka.
Stove God Cooks – “Reasonable Drought” (The Conglomerate Entertainment / Marci Enterprises) – 2020 was a breakout period for Stove God Cooks, but this was definitely no overnight success story, with the NY emcee having spent recent years working with both Lord Jamar and Busta Rhymes under the name Aaron Cooks prior to Roc Marciano’s involvement in his career. But it wasn’t just the name change and album full of Marci beats that gained people’s attention, it was also Cooks’ ability to breathe new life into the coke-rap genre with his distinctive delivery and creative punchlines involving references to aliens, singer Jon B and DITC’s Diamond D, amongst others.
Verbz & Mr Slipz – “Radio Waves” (HighFocus.Com) – Proving themselves to be a potent partnership, this full-length collaboration from London emcee Verbz and Brighton-based producer Mr Slipz was an absolute gem of an album, blending inner-city introspection and mellow beats with sublime results. Appearances from the likes of Melanin 9, Confucius MC and Coops added further depth to what was already an impressive release.
Craig G – “The Fragile Ego” (Soulspazm) – Juice Crew legend Craig G put us all on the therapist’s couch with this thematic release revolving around the human psyche. In today’s social media-driven era of instant gratification and the constant desire people have for attention, the Queensbridge-raised emcee took a step back to look at how our relationship with our ego can impact mental health and have real life consequences. Compelling stuff.
Oddisee – “Odd Cure” (Oddisee.BandCamp.Com) – In mid-July, inspired by the shared pandemic experience being endured globally and heightened social tensions in America, DMV favourite Oddisee dropped this life-affirming EP which dealt with the realities of the situation, with some moments of light relief sprinkled throughout. Leaning heavily on live instrumentation, which gave the EP a warm, soulful feel, this release may not have solved all the problems people were facing, but it did provide a welcome distraction from the madness.
D.C. Cortez & Drew Dave – “Stoop Stories” (DrewDaveMusic.BandCamp.Com) – Emcee / producer duo D.C. Cortez and Drew Dave stopped to take a look around in order to craft this observational, concept-based project inspired by everyday life in America’s capital city. Dealing with issues such as systemic racism, gentrification, education, unemployment, family and friendships, Cortez tackled potentially difficult subject matter in an engaging, conversational manner, complimented by Drew Dave’s full-bodied beats.
Conway The Machine – “From King To A GOD” (WhoIsConway.Com) – The third 2020 project from The Machine found the Buffalo emcee balancing the code of the streets with the politics of the rap game, as Conway acknowledged the pain and loss he still experiences due to his connections with hood life, whilst dealing with new pressures and issues associated with his rising industry reputation. Perhaps Conway’s most revealing release to date, fittingly original production from the likes of Daringer, Beat Butcha and DJ Premier really allowed his verses to resonate.
Rashid Hadee – “6 Packs & Cognac” (RashidHadee.Com) – The Chicago artist delivered lyrics with substance throughout this dope six-track EP, featuring production from Kenny Keys, Nottz, 5ifth Element and Hadee himself. Offering thoughts on the realities of life as a Black male in the Windy City, Rashid addressed issues such as police brutality, white privilege and mental health, with the finished product providing heads with a poignant listening experience.
MidaZ The Beast – “Where The Sidewalk Ends” (MidaZTheBeast.BandCamp.Com) – Orlando’s MidaZ teamed-up with producer Delle Digga to craft this collection of short-but-effective tracks which played like sonic chapters in an engrossing musical book. Needing to be heard in its entirety to be fully appreciated, the relationship here between the Florida-based emcee’s detailed verses and Digga’s subtle, sample-based tracks was nothing less than exquisite.
Phoenix Da Icefire x The Strange Neighbour – “Cinematic” (RevorgRecords.BandCamp.Com) – A clever album, this film-influenced collaboration between London’s Phoenix Da Icefire and producer Strange Neighbour offered plenty of high-definition, action-packed beats and rhymes, drawing listeners in with gripping lyrical narratives and a dramatic, well-crafted score. Pass the popcorn!
Tesla’s Ghost – “Strange Heirlooms” (TeslasGhost.BandCamp.Com) – A true lyrical craftsman, Triple Darkness emcee Tesla’s Ghost has an incredible talent for penning verses that combine raw street rhetoric with striking gothic-like imagery, leading listeners into a captivating creative space somewhere between reality and fiction. Production from the likes of Evil Ed, Karnate and The Historian provided the Ghost with some fittingly moody and eerie sonic backdrops. Play this only at night.
Sleep Sinatra – “No Anthems” (SleepSinatra1.BandCamp.Com) – When you’re an emcee who constructs lyrics that are as intricate and layered as those penned by Sleep Sinatra, you have to choose your beats carefully. On this release, the Nebraska-based artist found ideal musical allies in the form of production duo Parish & Bird, whose brand of understated mellow madness gave the rhymes here plenty of room to breathe, with Sinatra’s expert wordplay floating over hypnotic soundscapes.
Willie Waze – “Avant Scarred” (WillieWaze.BandCamp.Com) – Virginia-based emcee Willie Waze used the events of 2020 as inspiration for this honest, hard-hitting release, with production from the likes of DreamLife Beats, Kount Fif and Jewels Polaar bolstering the talented wordsmith’s striking bars. Acting almost as an audio diary, Waze did a great job here of expressing his thoughts, feelings and experiences during these undeniably turbulent times.
Ransom & Nicholas Craven – “Director’s Cut: Scene Two” (Presidential / Momentum) – Jersey City emcee Ransom definitely left his mark on 2020, releasing a trilogy of “Director’s Cut” projects with Canada’s Nicholas Craven behind the boards that effectively showcased his formidable rhyme skills. To be fair, any of the pair’s releases could have filled a slot on this list, but there was something about the “Scene Two” EP that stood-out to me in particular. Craven’s soulful-yet-melancholy production really brought the emotion out of Ransom’s hard-knock life lyricism on this one.
Elzhi – “Seven Times Down Eight Times Up” (FBDistribution.BandCamp.Com) – Former Slum Village member Elzhi’s first full-length release since 2016 was a deep dive into the Detroit representative’s mind-state, produced entirely by JR Swiftz. Encouraging persistence and resilience in all areas of life, not one word was wasted here, as Elzhi rhymed with a clear purpose, further cementing his status as one of the rap game’s most talented artists.
Oliver Sudden – “Sudden Impact” (RevorgRecords.BandCamp.Com) – This self-produced full-length from the Cronx Don Oliver Sudden was full of South London swagger, soulful loops and sharp wit. Taking time to look back on his career so far, whilst also looking towards what is still to be achieved, this album felt like the work of an artist taking stock of their position in life before embarking on the next chapter of their journey. Quality beats and rhymes.
Radio B – “All ARt AiN’t PreTTy” (KillTheDreamer.Com) – How can you be an artist and not reflect the times? That was the question posed at the beginning of this album from Richmond, Virginia’s Radio B. The content of the project, however, made it very clear what the talented emcee’s answer to that particular query was. Released during the summer, following the tragic murder of George Floyd and with protests sweeping across American cities, Radio B used this album to drop social commentary, encourage Black pride and inspire independent thought. Powerful.
Magno Garcia x Chairman Chow – “Ba-Loo-S” (ChairmanChow.BandCamp.Com) – A great collaboration between two gifted Boston individuals, Magno Garcia’s contemplative, street-smart rhymes found a perfect match here in the boom-bap-influenced, boundary-pushing production of Chairman Chow. The pair definitely proved themselves to be a good combination throughout this release, increasing hopes that they’ll be working together again in the future.
Athletic Mic League – “Playground Legends Vol. 1” (AthleticMicleague.BandCamp.Com) – Originally hailing from Michigan but with members now scattered across the US, the Athletic Mic League crew (responsible for such underground favourites as 2002’s “Sweats And Kicks”) reunited for this quality seven-track EP, with the likes of Buff1, 14KT and DJ Haircut (aka Mayer Hawthorne) proving that the group’s chemistry and bond were both as strong as ever.
Part Five (the final instalment) coming soon.
Meyhem Lauren – “Piatto D’Oro” (Fools Gold Records) – Backed by production from beat kings such as Large Professor, DJ Muggs and The Alchemist, Queens, NY resident Meyhem Lauren continued to play his part in 2016 to ensure traditional rough, rugged and raw Rotten Apple rap stayed alive, with “Piatoo D’Oro” providing the perfect theme music for Timberland-and-Polo fiends across the globe.
Si Phili – “The 11th Hour” (Phoenix Recordings) – Having already made an indelible mark on the UK Hip-Hop scene as a member of Phi Life Cypher, Luton lyricist Si Phili approached his debut solo album with both the experience of a seasoned mic vet and the hunger of a new artist with a point to prove. Featuring talented producers such as Pete Cannon, Leaf Dog and Richy Spitz, “The 11th Hour” found Phili unleashing a relentless barrage of intense wordplay, covering a variety of topics in the process.
The Game – “1992” (Blood Money Entertainment) – Strip away the rap beefs, personal dramas and industry politics that have surrounded The Game’s career over the years and one thing remains undeniable – Jayceon Terrell Taylor can definitely rhyme. This concept-based project found the former Aftermath emcee revisiting early-90s Los Angeles via personal, descriptive verses with respectful nods to West Coast icons such as Ice-T, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. Compton is still in the house!
J-Zone – “Fish-N-Grits” (J-Zone.BandCamp.Com) – Never afraid to tell-it-how-it-is, NYC’s multi-talented J-Zone once again offered listeners the opportunity to see the world through his own unique perspective on his latest full-length release, combining sharp observational humour with funky beats and Rotten Apple attitude. Dealing with topics such as rap’s generational debate, hipsters and gentrification, “Fish-N-Grits” was the perfect sonic antidote for the non-stop b.s. pushed daily from both the underground and mainstream Hip-Hop scenes. As Zone himself says, there’s only two types of music, good and bad.
Royce 5’9 – “Layers” (Bad Half Entertainment) – Lead by the autobiographical brilliance of the S1-produced “Tabernacle”, Detroit veteran Royce’s sixth solo album was arguably his best body of work to date. Filled with unflinching honesty, sly wit and well-honed rhyme skills, “Layers” was a fitting title for a project which gave the listener further insight into the life of the man behind the mic.
Akil The MC – “Sound Check” (AkilTheMC.BandCamp.Com) – Jurassic 5 member Akil filled this solo album with hard-hitting motivational music delivered in his traditional true-school style, effectively balancing his back-in-the-day roots with a present-day passion for the microphone.
Mikey D’Struction – “Day Of D’Struction” (Elements Of Hip-Hop) – Largely produced by Russia’s Ligalize, this album from Queens legend Mikey D found the veteran emcee avoiding the temptation of trying to fit in with current rap trends in order to appeal to a wider audience, choosing instead to stick to his sonic guns, delivering sharp, battle-ready rhymes over hardcore, speaker-rattling beats.
Black Josh – “Ape Tape” (BlahRecords,BandCamp.Com) – After first listening to Josh’s “Ape Tape” EP, one word came to mind – vibes! Boasting an organic, impromptu feel, this thoroughly entertaining release featured the UK artist lacing varied production with his sharp Manchester wit, politically-incorrect sense of humour and honest inner-city observations.
Torae – “Entitled” (Internal Affairs Entertainment) – Backed by a successful Kickstarter campaign, this album from Brooklyn emcee Torae satisfied loyal fans by delivering the consistently high-standard of lyricism we’ve come to expect from the NY representative with quality production from heavy-hitters such as Pete Rock, DJ Premier and Nottz.
Elzhi – “Lead Poison” (Glow 365) – After a five year hiatus and release date delays, Detroit’s Elzhi finally returned with an album that played like a sonic therapy session for the former Slum Village member, who had been battling with depression during the recording of the project. Clever, introspective and creative, “Lead Poison” showcased the results of a naturally gifted artist dealing with life’s problems through his pad and pen.
Ruste Juxx & Kyo Itachi – “Meteorite” (Shinigamie Records) – Bolstered by the impeccable production of France’s Kyo Itachi, former Sean Price protégé Ruste Juxx went intergalactic like a Timberland-wearing Silver Surfer on this rugged gem of an album, transmitting direct from the planet of Brooklyn accompanied by Illa Noyz, Bankai Fam’s Skanks and Rock of Heltah Skeltah.
Ghost – “Shards Of Memories” (Ghost.BandCamp.Com) – Ambitiously bridging the gap between the UK-raised, Australia-based producer’s underground Hip-Hop roots and his desire to craft something that reached beyond the traditional sound of dusty drums and head-nodding loops, “Shards Of Memories” was an impressive effort which was both polished and well-executed whilst also managing to retain a spontaneous, unpredictable edge.
Trace Motivate – “Bored, Lonely And Possibly Intoxicated” (TraceMotivate.BandCamp.Com) – Stepping beyond the aggressive, competition-crushing rhymes heard on releases from his group Grindhouse Project, Canada’a Trace Motivate offered personal reflection and honest life observations on this six-track concept-based release.
Tribe Of Judah – “Organically Grown” (Gravity Academy Records) – Maryland’s Tribe Of Judah mixed political commentary and social observation with street-savvy Hip-Hop bravado on their impressive Tokyo Cigar-produced debut album.
Rapsody – “Crown” (Jamla / Roc Nation) – Inspiring and passionate, North Carolina’s first lady of the mic Rapsody was on a mission to motivate her listeners with “Crown”, encouraging the younger generation in particular to reach for their goals via forthright rhymes delivered over soulful production from 9th Wonder, Nottz and Khrysis.
PhybaOptikz – “Shades Of Alejandro” (PhybaOptikz.BandCamp.Com) – London’s PhybaOptikz delivered a smooth, atmospheric concept album under the guise of his alter-ego Alejandro, showcasing the UK producer-on-the-mic getting busy over an ill selection of hypnotic loops with assistance from Crate Divizion comrades Giallo Point and Vic Grimes.
Arkatek & KelpiNINE – “Master Builder” (ArkatekMusic.BandCamp.Com) – Atlanta-based wordsmith Arkatek encouraged listeners to bring their third-eye vision into focus via well-crafted verses over drum-heavy production from KelpiNINE on this US / Ukraine collabo project.
K Zorro & Bad Company – “Deferred Gratification” (NewGuardzOnline.BandCamp.Com) – Talented London emcee K Zorro dropped intelligent, captivating verses over atmospheric production from musical ally Bad Company on this collaborative project which was both streetwise and socially-aware.
Sebastian Hochstein – “Name Dropping” (Illect.BandCamp.Com) – German producer Sebastian Hochstein called on the likes of Jurassic 5’s Chali 2na, Sadat X and Scribbling Idiots to provide lyrical support on this impressive EP, a release which was rooted in a dusty, sample-based sound.
Tha God Fahim & Giallo Point – “Eyes Of War” (Crate Divizion) – Atlanta’s Fahim spat righteous rawness over the brilliant, gripping production of UK music man Giallo Point on this quality Crate Divizion release.
Part Four coming soon.